Spring 2019

Potential in sight

Courtesy of Theresa Reinke

For nearly 18 years, Distinguished McKnight Professor Theresa Reineke has been on a mission to deliver gene therapy more effectively and affordably. It began when her mother was diagnosed with lymphoma and she saw how devastating chemotherapies and other treatments can be.

Gene therapy involves altering the genes inside the body’s cells to treat or stop diseases. It also requires a carrier—often a modified virus—to deliver the transformed gene directly into the cells. At a cost of up to $500,000 per dose,  the treatment is prohibitively expensive. 

Reineke and her research team in the College of Science and Engineering are working to change that by developing polymer-based carriers that would make gene therapy much more affordable and globally available.  

Reineke’s work recently caught the attention of Limelight Bio, a startup that makes DNA drugs, which led to a collaboration focused on treating genetic forms of blindness. “Limelight is funding research between my lab and a lab at the University of Pennsylvania,” she says. “We’ve advanced into preclinical animal testing. If it’s promising, we’ll work toward human trials.”

Private and public gifts, including a $100,000 McKnight grant, keep Reineke and her students going. “Our work takes a lot of financial resources,” she says. “Every penny helps further cutting-edge research that could have a huge impact on disease treatment.”